Malocclusion: Dental Professionals Explain It All

Malocclusion Symptoms and features


Malocclusion is a common dental problem characterized by misalignment of the teeth. It is commonly known as an overbite, underbite, crowded teeth, crossbite, or open bite. If teeth are severely misaligned, they won't be able to perform essential functions, causing patients potentially serious problems. The more you know about malocclusion and teeth, the better you will be able to recognize the problem in yourself and your family and take steps to prevent it.

A person's teeth normally fit evenly in their mouth without crowding each other out. They typically align in a neat row facing outward, rather than twisting at angles on the gumline. The pointed ridge of each molar should slide neatly into the grooves of the opposite molar.

Any deviation from this neat alignment is called malocclusion. Although there are many types of misalignment, they all prevent the teeth and mouth from working in an optimal fashion. Poor alignment of the teeth can lead to problems chewing and repeated biting of the cheeks and tongue.

Malocclusion may present as a change in the appearance of the face, discomfort when chewing, or breathing through the mouth. The teeth are usually visibly misaligned, and the patient may develop speech problems, including a lisp.

Malocclusion Causes

The causes of malocclusion are mainly hereditary. However, there are a host of dental conditions and events that can lead to misalignment. These include

  • thumb sucking in early childhood

  • cleft palate

  • poor dental care

  • jaw injuries

  • abnormally shaped teeth

  • airway obstruction

Malocclusion Diagnosis

Experts in malocclusion and teeth can usually diagnose the problem through routine dental exams. The exams can be visual or by X-ray. If a diagnosis of malocclusion is made, one of three classifications may be applied.

Class I: This is when the lower teeth are overlapped by the upper teeth. It is the most common type of malocclusion. Here, biting is normal and the problem is small.

Class II: This type of severe overbite, called retrognathism, occurs when the lower jaw is severely overlapped by the upper jaw.

Class III: This underbite, called prognathism, occurs when the lower jaw protrudes past the upper jaw.

Malocclusion Treatment

Mild malocclusion does not require any treatment. However, if the condition is more severe, an orthodontist's ministrations may be required. This tooth professional might recommend

  • braces to correct tooth position

  • surgery to shorten or reshape the jaw

  • tooth removal to correct overcrowding

  • wires or plates for stabilizing the jawbone

Treatments sometimes produce side effects like pain and irritation, difficulty chewing, and tooth decay.

Prevention is difficult because of the hereditary nature of the condition. However, the outlook is usually good with proper dental care. It's usually better when malocclusion is caught earlier in childhood since recovery can take longer for adults.